Targeted RNA Sequencing of VZV-Infected Brain Vascular Adventitial Fibroblasts Indicates That Amyloid May Be Involved in VZV Vasculopathy

Neurol Neuroimmunol Neuroinflamm. 2021 Nov 10;9(1):e1103. doi: 10.1212/NXI.0000000000001103. Print 2022 Jan.


Background and objectives: Compared with stroke controls, patients with varicella zoster virus (VZV) vasculopathy have increased amyloid in CSF, along with increased amylin (islet amyloid polypeptide [IAPP]) and anti-VZV antibodies. Thus, we examined the gene expression profiles of VZV-infected primary human brain vascular adventitial fibroblasts (HBVAFs), one of the initial arterial cells infected in VZV vasculopathy, to determine whether they are a potential source of amyloid that can disrupt vasculature and potentiate inflammation.

Methods: Mock- and VZV-infected quiescent HBVAFs were harvested at 3 days postinfection. Targeted RNA sequencing of the whole-human transcriptome (BioSpyder Technologies, TempO-Seq) was conducted followed by gene set enrichment and pathway analysis. Selected pathways unique to VZV-infected cells were confirmed by enzyme-linked immunoassays, migration assays, and immunofluorescence analysis (IFA) that included antibodies against amylin and amyloid-beta, as well as amyloid staining by Thioflavin-T.

Results: Compared with mock, VZV-infected HBVAFs had significantly enriched gene expression pathways involved in vascular remodeling and vascular diseases; confirmatory studies showed secretion of matrix metalloproteinase-3 and -10, as well increased migration of infected cells and uninfected cells when exposed to conditioned media from VZV-infected cells. In addition, significantly enriched pathways involved in amyloid-associated diseases (diabetes mellitus, amyloidosis, and Alzheimer disease), tauopathy, and progressive neurologic disorder were identified; predicted upstream regulators included amyloid precursor protein, apolipoprotein E, microtubule-associated protein tau, presenilin 1, and IAPP. Confirmatory IFA showed that VZV-infected HBVAFs contained amyloidogenic peptides (amyloid-beta and amylin) and intracellular amyloid.

Discussion: Gene expression profiles and pathway enrichment analysis of VZV-infected HBVAFs, as well as phenotypic studies, reveal features of pathologic vascular remodeling (e.g., increased cell migration and changes in the extracellular matrix) that can contribute to cerebrovascular disease. Furthermore, the discovery of amyloid-associated transcriptional pathways and intracellular amyloid deposition in HBVAFs raise the possibility that VZV vasculopathy is an amyloid disease. Amyloid deposition may contribute to cell death and loss of vascular wall integrity, as well as potentiate chronic inflammation in VZV vasculopathy, with disease severity and recurrence determined by the host's ability to clear virus infection and amyloid deposition and by the coexistence of other amyloid-associated diseases (i.e., Alzheimer disease and diabetes mellitus).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adventitia* / cytology
  • Adventitia* / metabolism
  • Adventitia* / pathology
  • Adventitia* / virology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders* / metabolism
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders* / pathology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders* / virology
  • Fibroblasts* / cytology
  • Fibroblasts* / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts* / pathology
  • Fibroblasts* / virology
  • Humans
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Transcriptome / physiology
  • Varicella Zoster Virus Infection* / metabolism
  • Varicella Zoster Virus Infection* / pathology
  • Varicella Zoster Virus Infection* / virology
  • Vascular Remodeling* / physiology


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides